The 8 Best Scanners
8. Epson DS-320 Mobile
7. Epson Perfection V39 Photo
6. Canon DR-M160II Document
5. Epson WorkForce ES-500W
4. HP ScanJet Pro 3000 S3
3. Doxie Q
2. TaoTronics TT-DS011
1. Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500
Through a Scanner Darkly
From telegraphs that scan signatures to telepaths that scan minds, scanners boast a rich history in the realms of both science and science fiction.
In 1888, an American electrical engineer named Elisha Gray put scribes out of their jobs when he invented the telautograph, the world's first fax machine. Using a telegraph, Gray was able to transmit the movements of a pen from one side of town to another with such accuracy and precision that it was impossible to distinguish between an original autograph and a telautograph. With Gray's invention, one could sign a contract from the other side of the country the very same day that contract was written.
Twenty-five years later, in 1913, a Swiss photographer named Édouard Belin did the same using a telephone and a photocell in a machine he called the Belinograph. However, due to being the Great-War equivalent of AOL dial-up, the Belinograph was short-lived, stepping aside for much faster wirephoto services that could send full pages one minute at a time.
As the Second World War approached, a battle of engineers ensued with slight advancements in wirephoto technology being made year after year until, in 1948, Western Union won with its compact, desktop-friendly DeskFax.
With the advent of email and the subsequent ability to send digital images between computers, the need arose for a machine that could not only make and send copies, but could turn a full-page document or photograph into a digital file, which could then be sent and either kept or printed.
In 1969, Nobel Prize-winning physicists Willard Boyle and Charles E Smith invented the charge-coupled device, or CCD, a device that converts photons, the light particles that allow us to see physical objects, into electron charges and electron charges into digital values, ones and zeroes, that can then be used to construct a digital copy.
Enter the first digital scanner.
Decision #1: CCD or CIS?
Whether you're scanning old photographs for posterity, illustrations for a children's book, or three-dimensional objects for 3D-printer schematics, digital image scanners come in a variety of types and some may be more suitable for certain tasks while others may not be suitable at all.
Visual artists interested in scanning smaller canvas paintings that could be easily damaged by, or simply won't fit into, automatic document feeders, flatbed scanners are the only viable option. Likewise, professionals specializing in digital archiving will also want to avoid automatic feeders, which can crease, scratch, or otherwise damage old photographs and documents.
Whether you are limited to flatbed scanners or not, there are two major decisions to make. The first, which may greatly influence the second, as we shall soon see, is a choice between charge-coupled devices and compact image sensors.
Where CCD uses mirrors to reflect light, thereby allowing for greater depth of field necessary for capturing things like brushstrokes, CIS uses LEDs in near-direct contact with the object being scanned. By using LEDs, CIS requires much less power and therefore is the only option in portable, battery-operated scanners or scanners that can be plugged in via USB.
Due to the minimal power required for them to operate, CIS scanners often provide much lower image quality than CCD scanners, but they do so in favor of convenience.
Decision #2: Desktop or Portable?
When writer and director David Cronenberg first conceived of the plot for Scanners, a 1981 science-fiction film in which mind-reading "scanners" can scan for thoughts with such enthusiasm they cause their victims' heads to explode, digital scanning technology was limited to reconnaissance satellites and the world's first digital still camera, which was extremely expensive at the time. Not for another thirty years would people be able to scan things, including other people, as readily as Cronenberg's "scanners" could.
By commercializing compact, affordable scanners, companies like Brother, Canon, and Epson have allowed people in the 21st century to scan, digitize, and share via social media everything from hundred-year-old photographs to original works of art to pages of an old manuscript restricted to the library's archives, which leads us to the second major decision: desktop or portable?
Having decided whether or not the energy efficiency and lower price of CIS outweighs the image quality and depth of field of CCD, the next thing to do is to decide how you plan on using your scanner most often.
While a flatbed CIS scanner may capture every word on the page of a book and allow you to convert that page into a searchable .pdf file, a handheld CIS scanner will allow you to scan a rare, 14th-century illuminated manuscript without flipping it upside down and causing further damage to an already deteriorating spine. However, a handheld scanner may not be able to capture the entire document in a single pass, whereas a much wider flatbed scanner will.
As with most technologies, the choice of brand and type depends entirely on what kind of work you plan to do.